Fusebox Festival Review: Water and Tears

A butoh-inspired dance for two bodies existing as one

Courtesy of GO

The image that lingers from Water and Tears is of two dancers, sliding over each other, their bodies curved inward concentrically with heads bent, like a still of dolphins frolicking in the water. Watching their meditative exploration of each other’s weight, balance, and shapes in space, it was challenging to tell which end was up or who was who.

Of course, this was the point of Water and Tears, by Japanese choreographer Kaori Seki, presented April 19 and 20 at the 2018 Fusebox Festival. “I imagine a time,” she writes in the program notes, “when there wasn’t an awareness of the self being divided from the other, or even the identification of the self as ‘one.’”

With the work, Seki, trained in ballet and butoh, gave space to a mesmerizing primordial intimacy. In a sonic atmosphere of crackles, drips, and rumblings, the dancers began on the floor, ever-so-slowly becoming erect, each vertebra floating on its gelid disc and palms plainly facing outward, like drawings from an anatomy book. In the sculptural shapes they made together, carefully and quietly molded, the individuals all but disappeared; if you removed one person from the vignette, the other could not stand on their own. The male dancer, from a headstand, curled over his partner and ended up beyond her lap, and his slightest struggling and their tandem splaying gave way to a birth metaphor. Inversions were important for disrupting our perception of the two as individuals – a passively supported handstand here, a shoulder stand there. We saw their buttocks, rounded beneath their tunic-like rompers, perhaps more than their faces. Arms and legs were not disembodied but had no distinct owner.

The mood was aided greatly by the lighting design (uncredited in the program). For much of the work, the lighting cast stark shadows in the dancers’ musculature, giving the light a similar role to the white makeup of butoh dancers (which a trail of powder on floor also alluded to). But at the end of the work, warmer light flickered in and out – a rise and fall here, another there – and, with the sparse cracklings remaining in the soundscape, rendered a campfire-like hush over the dancers. While at other times I wondered whether the proscenium stage was the best way to experience this work, it was here, at the campfire, that I felt most wholly inside the spell.

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